Pensions Reform

The Turner Report into the future of pensions has now been published – the main recommendations, as expected, are that the pensionable age should gradually increase over the next 45 years (though to 68, not 67 as reported in the press), the state pension should be residence based and linked to increases in average earnings, and there should be a national pensions saving scheme (NPSS) that everyone should be automatically enrolled in unless they opt-out, contributed to by both employees and employers.

How popular are these recommendations likely to be? YouGov carried out a detailed poll, published earlier this week, looking at the future of pensions.

The first thing to note is that there is a very widespread acceptance that there is a problem – only 4% of people think there is not a pension crisis, and 69% think there is a serious crisis in pension provision. 87% of people think that ‘most’ people are not saving enough for their retirements, and 65% of people think that they personally are not saving enough for their old age.

Recognising that there is a problem with pensions does not, of course, equate to automatically supporting any and all proposals to deal with it. YouGov went on to ask a question that stated there there were only a limited number of ways of dealing with the future of pensions, and asking people which they would prefer – the options offered were making or encouraging people save more themselves, taxing people more, raising the retirement age, increasing immigration or simply letting people’s retirement incomes fall. Far and away the most popular solution was making or encouraging people to save more – chosen by 49% of people, following by increasing taxes – 18%. YouGov went on to ask which of the options people would find acceptable, and which would be their least favoured option – the only option acceptable to a majority of people was making or encouraging people to save more (supported by 69%). Increased taxes would be accepted by 39%, while raising the retirement age would be acceptable to only 33%. Reducing pensioners’ income was acceptable to only 5% of people, while increasing immigration was acceptable to only 13% – it was also the least popular option overall, named as such by 33% of people. YouGov also asked a more specific question on tax – only 9% of people said they would be willing to pay a lot more in tax if they thought hte money really would increase pensions, and only 39% would be willing to pay a little more. 45% said they wouldn’t be willing to pay any more tax at all, even if it would increase pensions.

So, if the public generally support more saving, and oppose a later retirement age, what are they likely to think of the specific proposals in the Turner Report? Pretty much as you’d expect: YouGov asked if people would support increasing the pension age to 67 (which, at the time, was expected to be Turner’s recommendation) – 39% said they would be in favour, 47% said they would be opposed.

Asked if employers should be compelled to contribute to a pension for their employees, 82% said they should, with only 25% opposed. Compulsory contributions by employers are generally criticised for adding extra labour costs to businesses, and therefore leading to job cuts or lower wages, YouGov therefore went on to ask if people would still support such a proposals if it lead to employers “either having to reduce pay levels, or cut the size of their workforce, or both”. While this obviously reduced the level of support, a majority – 54% – still supported proposals to force employers to contribute.

YouGov also asked respondents under the age of 60 how they personally would respond to an opt-out pension scheme like that subsequently recommended by Turner. 56% of people said they would remain in the scheme, while the overwhelming majority of those who said they would opt out said they would make alternate arrangements. Only 3% of people said they would opt out and not join a pension scheme.

YouGov’s findings therefore suggest that most people think more savings are the answer to the pension crisis, and that the majority of people would remain in an opt-out pension scheme – althought it remains to be seen how they react to the specific sort of contribution levels suggested by the Turner Report. On the other hand, there is far less support for increasing the pensionable age or increasing taxes.

YouGov also asked a series of questions about public sector pensions – 74% of people thought that public sector pensioners got a better deal than those who worked in the private sector and 60% of those thought they did not deserve this (predictably there was a huge difference between public and private sector workers on this question – 55% of public sector workers thought that, yes, they did deserve better pensions than the private sector). Asked about the government’s proposals for the future of public sector pensions, the most popular option was the government’s original plan to gradually increase the retirement age of public sector workers under 50 to 65, supported by 39% of respondents. 32% of respondents opted for the compromise agreed with the trade unions – that current workers should retire at 60, but future workers at 65. Amongst public sector workers themselves the most popular option was the compromise position, supported by 40% of public sector workers.

I haven’t paid much attention to the voting intention polls over recent months since without a Leader of the Opposition party politics are in a bit of a limbo. When people say how they would vote in a general election tomorrow, are they imagining a an election with Michael Howard as the alternate Prime Minister, or David Cameron or David Davis? It doesn’t really matter, since very little of interest has happened to the polls since the general election anyway – the Conservatives have stayed around the 33% they received in the election, Labour have remained a couple of points above their election performance, and the Lib Dems a couple of points below. This month’s YouGov poll has one of the first significant changes in the levels of party support – the topline figures are CON 35%(+3), LAB 37%(-3), LD 20%(+1).

It’s too early to ascribe any real meaning to this – it is as yet only one survey, and it could just be a rogue poll – after all, a Populus poll back in September showed a similar Tory advance, before they fell straight back again the next month. However, the underlying figures in YouGov’s poll do suggest that the Conservative party are turning a corner.

Looking at the rest of YouGov’s monthly figures, on the Best Prime Minister question, where Michael Howard has now been replaced by David Cameron and David Davis, Tony Blair has only a 6 point lead over David Cameron, compared to a 21 point lead over Michael Howard in the last Blair/Howard/Kennedy poll and an 11 point lead over Howard at the election. On economic competence, Labour’s lead is down to 8 points compared to 22 points at the general election and, perhaps surprisingly given the Conservative party is in the midst of a leadership campaign, while both parties are seen as divided, more people think Labour is divided than the Tories (70% compared to 58%).

In a forced choice question between a Gordon Brown led Labour government and a David Cameron led Conservative government, Labour led by 9 points. This compares to a 17 point Labour lead on the equivalent question (between Howard/Conservative and Blair/Labour governments) at the time of the election.

YouGov also asked people if they thought the reputations of the Conservative and Labour parties were getting better or worse at the moment. Labour’s reputation was overwhelmingly seen as being on the slide – 72% thought it was getting worse, including 48% of Labour supporters. In contrast the Conservatives seem to be on the up – 41% thought their reputation was getting better, with only 10% thinking they were still on the slide. Even significant numbers of Labour (26%) and Lib Dem (35%) voters thought the Conservatives’ reputation was getting better.

Asked about the Conservative party’s chances of winning the next election, 57% thought they were improving at the moment. While this, predictably enough, included nearly all Tory voters, it also again included significant amounts of Labour (38%) and Lib Dem (48%) voters.

On the Labour leadership YouGov asked people a long list of questions about Tony Blair – while Blair was still seen as decisive, a winner and likeable as a person, on nearly every other count he came out badly – uncaring, not tough, ineffective, untrustworthy, not in charge and not willing to lsiten to reason. Perhaps more interestingly was how people thought a Brown premiership would compare – only 24% thought Brown would be an improvement, with 47%thinking it wouldn’t make much difference and 19% thinking he’d be even worse.

If anything the Conservatives have made more progress on the underlying figures than in voting intention – that said, it’s important to remember that the Labour party are still ahead of them on every count. What has changed is that the Conservatives are now trailing slightly less far behind and, perhaps more importantly, the momentum now seems to be with them.

YouGov also asked a few questions on topical political issues. On the relaxation of licencing laws – particularly in the context of whether they will make binge drinking better or worse – 46% thought the new law would make the problem worse, while 24% thought it would make things better.

Finally YouGov asked about the response to the murder of PC Sharon Beshenivsky. By a substantial 64% to 29% margin people did not want to see the police routinely carrying firearms – this is substantially higher than the last two times this questions was asked, perhaps because both those surveys were in the context of terrorism rather than general policing. A slight majority do still favour re-introducing the death penalty for murdering a police officer- 49% to 43%.


Prior to the July 7th bombings support for ID cards had appeared to be in serious decline. Back in 2003 YouGov had found a net approval rating of +63 for the introduction of ID cards, with support of 78%. By the week prior to the London bombing net approval had fallen to only +3, with support down to 45%.

The London bombing had an immediate effect upon public attitudes towards ID cards, with a YouGov poll just a week later showing support back up to 50% (net approval of +12). Populus and ICM polls through July showed similar leaps in support, with ID cards once again enjoying the support of over 60% of respondents.

A new ICM poll for No2ID, the campaign against ID cards, seems to indicate that support is back on a downwards trend. In June 2005 ICM/No2ID found that 55% of people thought ID cards were a good idea, while 43% thought they were a bad idea. ICM asked the question again this week, using identical wording, and found that 50% of people thought they were a good idea, while 47% thought them a bad idea.

Many people are (reasonably enough) suspicious about polls commissoned by pressure groups for campaigning purposes. In this case though, it is trend that matters – both polls were carried out using the same methodology, and the same wording and are therefore directly comparable. The poll suggests that levels of support for ID cards have returned to the levels we saw prior to the London bombings and that the rise in support was a purely temporary reaction to the bombing, furthermore support for them may still be falling.

Retiring at 67

The report of the Turner commission is expected to recommend that the state pensionable age be increased to 67 to pay for a higher state pension. This meets with very lukewarm support from the public in a new ICM poll in Tuesday’s Guardian – only 36% support increasing the pensionable age, with 59% saying they would rather stick to the present age even if it means lower pensions.

Opinions differ between different age groups – amongst under 24s a majority (51%) of people support a retirement age of 67, but 66% of those aged between 35-65 oppose it. So, while there is much opposition to an increase in the retirement age, with the opposition to the change strongest amongst those who are the soonest to retire the government may be able to negate much of it by phasing in an increase over a long period of time.

Looking at various other reforms which have been suggested, people are happy with a new opt-out pension scheme – i.e. a national pension scheme to which everyone in work automatically pays into, unless they specifically chose not to. This was supported by 77% compared to 17% against.

When it comes to compulsory schemes people are less positive…depending on who the compulsion falls upon. If employers are compelled to pay into a pension scheme for their employees people are overwhelmingly in favour by 82% to 17%. If, on the other hand, employees themselves are compelled to pay into pension scheme, support falls to only 48%, with 48% against.

Finally ICM asked whether increases in the state pension should be linked to increases in average earnings, rather than inflation, even if this meant increases in taxation. 63% said yes, 34% said no. Once again there was a clear age difference – amongst retired people and those over the age of 35 around two-thirds of people supported linking the pension to earnings. Amongst under 24s, support was significantly lower at only 45%.

The polls also has voting intention figures – the topline figures, with changes from last month, are CON 33%(nc), LAB 38%(+2), LD 19%(-3)

Following the tragic murder of Pc Sharon Beshenivsky at the weekend, the media has been in flurry over whether policemen should be routinely armed (despite the fact that practically no one seems to be calling for this) and, following a newspaper article by Lord Stevens, whether the death penalty should be re-introduced for the murder of a police officer. No doubt one of the newspapers will commission an up-to-date opinion poll on one or both subjects in the next couple of days, but since these are perennial issues, there are plenty of past polls to look back at.

On the routine arming of police officers, while Home Office consultations suggest that a large majority of serving police officers are opposed to routinely carrying arms, the public are far more divided on the subject. The most recent poll to ask if police officers should be armed was carried out by ICM back in April 2004 and found 47% of the public supported arming all policemen, while 48% opposed such a move. That poll suggested the move specifically as an anti-terrorist measure, though a YouGov poll in 2003 which asked the question in the context of more criminals using guns, found a simialr split in opinion – 44% in favour, 48% against.

Turning to the other question, the death penalty is consistently supported by a majority of the public, indeed it is normally given as the classic textbook example of an issue where MPs consistently vote in a way that does not reflect public opinion (and indeed, since Britain signed Protocol 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, it would be considerably more difficult for Britain to reintroduce the death penalty anyway). Unsurprisingly therefore, the last two polls to ask whether or not capital punishment should be reintroduced for the murder of the police officer found majority support – in January 2003 YouGov found 56% supported it, later the same year in December 2003 they found 62% supported it.

Will the weekend’s tragedy change these figures? It’s possible, but it’s worth bearing in mind that polls above were taken after other tragedies – the January 2003 one was conducted straight after the murder of Detective Constable Stephen Oake, the December 2003 one was part of a wider survey on the death penalty taken immediately after the Soham murder trial. The only time the media tend to enquire what people think about the death penalty is when they are reeling from a particularly horrific crime.